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US Military Seeks New Afghanistan Strategy

The top U.S. military officer says he has ordered the development of a new, more comprehensive strategy for the war in Afghanistan, including a plan to shift U.S. forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, announced by President Bush on Tuesday. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen says the decision to continue a slow reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq is justified by reduced violence and the increased capability of the Iraqi security forces. He says any risks created by the U.S. drawdown are "acceptable."

But he indicated to the Armed Services Committee of the House of Representatives that he is more concerned about the situation in Afghanistan.

"I am not convinced we are winning yet in Afghanistan, I am convinced we can," Mullen said. "That is why I intend to commission, and I am looking at, a new, more comprehensive military strategy for the region that covers both sides of that border."

Admiral Mullen said security in Afghanistan and Pakistan are "inextricably linked" because of what he called "a common insurgency" on both sides of their border. He said military force is not enough to win in Afghanistan, and he called for a broad Afghan and international effort to improve governance and economic development. But he said more troops are also needed, even beyond the deployment President Bush announced Tuesday.

"They are a good and important start," Mullen said. "Frankly, I judge the risk of not sending them too great a risk to ignore. My expectation is that they will need to perform both the training mission and the combat and combat support missions simultaneously until such time that we can provide additional troops. And I can not say at this point when that might be."

President Bush said he will send about 4,500 troops to Afghanistan by February, but with other U.S. forces scheduled to leave the result will be a net increase of only about 15,000. The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan has asked for 10,000.

At the same hearing where Admiral Mullen spoke, Defense Secretary Robert Gates cautioned against withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq too quickly in order to address the need in Afghanistan, and the desire to give the troops more rest time between deployments.

"I worry that the great progress our troops and the Iraqis have made has the potential to override a measure of caution born of uncertainty," Gates said. "Our military commanders do not yet believe our gains are necessarily enduring. And they believe that there are still many challenges and the potential for reversals in the future."

Secretary Gates said the conflict in Iraq has undergone a "fundamental change," but he repeated his view that the United States and its allies must now "get the end game there right." The secretary is so concerned that he made a rare statement, for him, that could be interpreted as injecting his views into the presidential election campaign, where the U.S. troop commitment in Iraq is a major issue.

"I would urge our nation's leaders to implement strategies that while steadily reducing our presence in Iraq are cautious and flexible, and take into account the advice of our senior commanders and military leaders," Gates said. "I would also urge our leaders to keep in mind that we should expect to be involved in Iraq for years to come, although in changing and increasingly limited ways."

Secretary Gates said although the country's top military leaders came at the question of Iraq troop levels from different perspectives, they all ended up agreeing to recommend the small withdrawal of 8,000 troops during the next five months that President Bush announced Tuesday, in order to ensure that security gains are not lost.